Well, then. Justified managed to subvert virtually all expectations with its third season finale if you were expecting them to be the action-fests that were the first and second season closers. It was still a great way to cap the season, and it certainly matched the more mature and tense mood of the season (as compared to the more testosterone driven affairs of the past), but still, I manage to blame myself for being somewhat disappointed with this season finale. I was expecting something a little more explosive (especially considering the literal explosions at the end of last week’s “Coalition.“), and Justified doubled down on cerebral. And when that worked, it was wonderful, but there were still times when it felt like the show was trying to be a little more than it is (I really hope it doesn’t begin to suffer from what I call “The Walking Dead wants to be serious TV” syndrome). Regardless, it brought the season to a close by resolving at least one major storyline and leaving plenty of opportunities for next season’s drama.
Well. This episode was busy (like pretty much every other episode this season). Raylen’s State Trooper friend, Tom Bergen, dies from the gunshot wound he received. Johnny Crowder is telling all of the cops at the scene that it was Quarles (who is missing by the time any other police arrive), and after Raylen arrives and interrogates Boyd, he learns that the car bomb was set up by Wynn Duffy who Raylen decides to pay a visit for some “enhanced interrogation.” He shows up at Wynn’s RV, has the State Troopers haul away Duffy’s bodyguard, and then he and Duffy have a heart-to-heart alone in the RV. Raylen pulls out his revolver, puts one bullet in it (though I believe he actually palmed the bullet before hand rather than actually placing it in the cylinder [though the episode never shows so maybe Raylen really leaped over the line]), and tells Duffy that every time he lies to him , he’s going to pull the trigger. Duffy thinks Raylen’s bluffing until Raylen pulls the gun trigger twice when he tells him that this was all set up by Limehouse as a way to potentially get rid of both of the thorns in his backside (Quarles and Crowder). So Raylen shows up at Limehouse’s to arrest him for accessory to murder. Limehouse protests and Raylen pulls a gun on him. However, all of Limehouse’s men show up and pull their guns on Raylen (Raylen never actually fires his gun this episode. Spoiler). Limehouse gets Raylen to back down by promising him Boyd on a silver platter which is to say he spills the beans on the murder of Devil and the location of Devil’s body.
When Boyd gets a call from Sheriff Shelby (Jim Beaver) warning him that the police are on his trail (and letting Boyd know that the two are officially squre), he believes that there’s a rat in his organization. While the rat later turns out to be Johnny (who still blames Boyd for getting him shot in the stomach by Bo), they believe it’s Arlo whose dementia and relationship with hooker Ellen Mae (who Ava beats the shit out of because she falsely believes she’s the rat) mean it would have been easy for him to have the loose lips that sank the ship. The police eventually pick Johnny up for the murder because he knows he won’t be able to run away. Quarles has kidnapped two kids (and their mother but he lets her go) and is trying to get even with the Dixie mafia and concocts a scheme to rob Limehouse of his money. He uses the kids as bait to lure Raylen away from the cops (with no chance for the heroic return they made last season when he was nearly shot by Coover Bennett) and as a human shield against Limehouse (along with a small child). However, one of Limehouse’s men (who had sent away for reasons I still don’t understand) returns in the nick of time and shoots Quarles. Quarles tries to draw his sleeve gun but Limehouse chops his arm off instead. Cue me yelling “holy shit” at the top of my lungs. As Quarles is dying, we find out that he didn’t shoot the state trooper. It was Raylen’s dad, Arlo. Arlo thought it was Raylen… ouch. Arlo is being deemed mentally incompetent by his counsel (and since he sees dead people, he pretty much is) but he’s smart enough to take the rap for killing Devil to get Boyd off the hook.
Let’s start with the highlights before I pick apart the plot problems I had. A) Timothy Olyphant was perhaps at his best of the entire series. This episode is his Emmy submission tape. He displayed such a wide array of emotions. Mournful sorrow when he discovered what happened to Tom Bergen. Terrifying fury when he was playing Russian Roulette with Wynn Duffy. Confusion and distress when his father apologized to him for the way he treated him as a boy. Horrific shock when he realized who finally shot Tom. And intentionally restrained but heartbroken emotion when he has to drag his father into the police station. I mean, damn (this is the second time I’ve thought of Ron Simmons as I’ve typed that word). Similarly, for dark comedy gold, I’m not sure if you can beat Quarles reaching for his severed hand and Raylen pulling it away like he’s Lucy taking the football away from Charlie Brown. I literally laughed out loud during a scene that involved dismemberment, and Raylen’s joke to Winona later about how the people at work were saying he’d “disarmed” Quarles just seemed like the perfect thing to have Raylen say in that situation. Quarles was also appropriately nutso in his final appearance (there’s no way he survived being shot and dismembered. I would have to call some serious bullshit there), and Mykelti Williamson finally had more to do than to look menacing as he chopped up meat (though we finally realized why he’s always around those damn dead pigs).
Here are my problems though (and there are more of them than I wish there had been). First off, while I was eventually able to figure out why Limehouse had sent Errol away (I’m pretty sure it had to do with the botched Oxycontin clinic robbery that Errol had tried to set up without Limehouse’s permission), it was not a comprehensible scene in the episode whatsoever. There was almost nothing in the way of explaining why it’s happening, and I’m a smart guy who was able to always follow The Wire and Lost without any one having to explain things to me. That scene just felt so weird and was just an obvious excuse to allow Errol to make his heroic turn later in the episode (Did he end up getting shot by Quarles? that scene happened so fast that I couldn’t tell). Also, Johnny’s turn as a rat isn’t really unexpected. He’s sold out both Bo and Boyd in the past. Being a rat is in his blood, but there could have been anything resembling foreshadowing for this rather than springing it on us at the last minute as another way to complicate this already complex story. Similarly, I’m never going to love Joelle Carter as Ava (or the character), and I thought she was just a little too over the top (as well as the direction of the scene) when she was beating on Ellen Mae.
I’m going to draw this review to a close (though there are other things I have to say) because I want to play a little bit of Persona 4 at the moment, and I’m getting to the point in my life where all I feel like I do is write all day. I love to write so I don’t care, but there are definitely moments when I want to give my typing a rest so I don’t get carpal-tunnel syndrome (though playing a video game isn’t going to help me out there). I’m excited to see that Limehouse is still very much alive at the end of this episode, and while there’s a possibility that he’s going to go to jail, I doubt it, and maybe they’re setting him up as next season’s Big Bad, a role which could also go to Wynn Duffy who was also very much alive at episode’s end (though much more likely to be arrested). Considering that I never fully invested in this season’s main story arc, I’m torn as to whether I actually in the end think it’s better than season 2. I think the storytelling was more consistent and cohesive, but the highs never quite matched Mags Bennett, and I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have a villain as magnetic as Margot Martindale.
Final Score: A-